I love everything about musicals. The first musical I fell in love with was The Phantom of the Opera. It was my 10th birthday, and my parents brought me to see it in Toronto. I remember being completely enchanted. To this day, the same magical feeling comes over me each time I set foot in a theater to see a live show. So I was tremendously excited to talk to Ali Angelone, Assistant Professor of Musical Theater, Director, and Choreographer at Dean College, Lecturer at Providence College, and mother to an adorable 15 month old son, Lynden. I was even more excited to hear that the latest show she’s directing (Oh My God You Guys!) is Legally Blonde The Musical. In my fantasy world, Ali’s life consists of singing and dancing and hanging out with Reese Witherspoon and Laura Bell Bundy. However, after chatting with her for about 15 minutes, I was exhausted. The reality is that between teaching and lecturing during the day, directing at night, and carving out one on one time for her son, Ali has a lot of balls in the air. Oh, and she’s also pregnant.
How, I marvel, does she balance it all? For Ali, it’s all about preparation. “I make a schedule for myself: this is when I wake up, this is when I take care of the baby, this is when I go to work, this is when I prep for rehearsal, this is when the baby goes to bed, this is when I prep again, this is when I make the food for the next day for all of us, and this is when I go to sleep, and this is the amount of sleep I try to get every night.” (Seven hours of sleep is the magical number for which Ali strives, in case you were wondering).
Ali acknowledges that finding time to fit in everything is a challenge now that her son is older. “When he was a baby, he would sleep for three hour chunks, so I could work then.” But after teaching all day, Ali now needs to wait until after her son goes to bed at 7pm to start working again. Throwing rehearsals into the mix further complicates her work schedule. “Next week when rehearsals start, I’ll be at work five nights a week, and six or seven nights a week as the show gets closer. I’m keeping them all nighttime rehearsals because of Lynden. If I leave the house at 5:30, my husband can just feed him dinner and put him to bed and I won’t feel as guilty because he will be just sleeping anyway.”
I have to ask: is it hard to maintain this pace? As I listen to Ali describe her jam-packed schedule, it becomes clear there is a lot of both juggling and self-discipline involved. “We all have to find a balance in life and I’m still working on it. I tell my students, ‘you have to make a schedule for yourself, which has to include time for you, time for sleep, and time to take care of your health. Doing a show requires stamina, so throw some cardio in there.'”
Ali has thrown all my misconceptions about the glamour of theater life out the window. She reminds me that “theater is a discipline. It’s not all fun and games, and there are some times when I’m totally exhausted and I just want to lie down.” But to keep her busy schedule afloat, Ali has to stay focused and organized.
And what does that work look like? I couldn’t help but giggle as Ali describes how she stages her shows. “I usually work in the kitchen because that’s the biggest floor space. I use forks and spoons as people.” I confess to her that I imagine her family just running around singing all the time. She admits to singing and listening to musicals constantly, although she is quick to point out that it is just her: “my husband completely supports the arts and comes to my performances, but singing is not his forte.” Ali loves that they are so different. I love their courtship story; they met on a faculty bus tour five days after she moved to North Dakota – don’t you feel like that could be the start of a musical?
Ali’s love of musical theater started in her childhood. When I ask her how she got involved in theater, it seems that she was born to be an artist and director. “As a kid, I was always creating dances and stories. I used to sell fake tickets in the neighborhood and my friends and I would use our recital costumes and put on little plays or dances for our neighbors. I started dancing at three, and that was the first time I was on a stage in front of other people. I just fell in love with it. I did theater camps, plays in school, and the older I got, the more classes I took.”
Ali was able to develop into an artist because of the support of her parents. “My mom started putting me in theater camps because she knew I loved it so much.” Even with her parents’ blessing and love however, neither of them realized that Ali’s passion for theater would turn into her future career. “I don’t think either one of them thought that I would be doing this forever. When you’re 17 or 18 years old and saying this, your parents aren’t going to believe you. But I always knew I wanted to work in the arts. I knew I wanted to wake up every single day and love what I do. And I worked really hard to be able to do that: blood, sweat, and tears. But I’m thankful for that.” For Ali, her dedication and commitment to her work has made her a better artist and a better teacher. Despite all the juggling and limited downtime, she loves going to work every single day.
What is her advice for parents of kids who seem theatrically inclined? “ I think that every child interested in the arts should start in dance. It’s a great way to get them on the stage and they don’t have to talk yet. If you want to do more later in life you have to be a triple threat of a dancer, singer, and actor, and if you’re not taking dance as a child it’s hard to pick up later. Exposure to singing in general is great, so sign them up for a music class.” And when they get a little bit older, Ali recommends putting them in summer theater camps to give them more exposure to the arts. “If they really love it they will let you know, and then you can explore more. Look for productions in and around New England looking for child actors, and then just audition for shows.” Her favorite places for children to get started in the arts are East Bay Music Together, Just Dance, and Kaleidoscope Theater.
Does she hope Lynden will be theatrical? Ali laughs and admits that she would love to see him be her little performer. How does she encourage it? “I was directing Bye Bye Birdie when I was pregnant with Lynden, so literally from the womb he has been listening to musical theater repertoire. I’ll listen to musical theater when we go for a walk so I can be thinking of staging while spending time with him. He knows the songs to Legally Blonde already, and he’ll dance to “Oh My God You Guys.” And we watch a lot of movies with music because he loves music. He’s been taking music class since he was six months old, and I recently put him in dance class. He can’t really sing yet, but he tries. And we always look for events, even story time at the library so that he can hear character voices. I just try to immerse him into the arts as much as I possibly can.”
Like all of us, Ali struggles with feeling the need to be the perfect mother. A self-proclaimed “Type A personality,” Ali admits to having trouble letting go of control: “I teach the senior showcase class and we take them to NYC every March to audition for casting directors. Since I have to leave for a couple of days here and there, I find myself doing way more than I need to do, even though I know Lynden is with his father. I label everything. I prep all the food. I actually Ziploc his clothes in bags, and I will label them ‘outfit for Saturday day’ or ‘pajamas for Saturday night.’ You name it, I do it. And my husband will say, ‘you don’t have to do all that,’ and I’m like, ‘yes I do because I don’t know what he’d wear tomorrow if I don’t.’ Letting go of that control is really hard for me to do. I’ll take on more than I need to instead of just letting my husband or my mother do it. And it adds more work to my schedule. I’m still trying to be that perfect mom.”
Having trouble letting go is something that I think most of us can relate to. We commiserate about mom guilt, but Ali is quick to say that she has no regrets about the choices she is making and the hard work she is putting into her career.
“I think it’s good for my son to see what I do because he’ll know that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. He’ll know that his mother was hardworking, but that she always made time for him. So I don’t choose one over the other. I want to be happy too, because if I’m happy then I’ll be the best mother I can be for him, so I don’t regret not being able to stay home every single day. I want him to see that women can work, be successful, and also be a parent. Not just men. He sees daddy leave for work in the morning and daddy comes home and daddy puts him to bed and reads his book. But it’s important for him to see that women can do this too. I want him to know that everyone is equal. I want to raise strong, kind boys.”
I ask if Ali has anything to add, and I love her answer: “My favorite quote is ‘an artist’s work is never done.’ That means my work is never done either. I never get comfortable in what I’m doing. I’m always learning because I think that’s what makes a strong teacher. Who you are as a person is who you are as an artist and a teacher. So I always strive to be a better person, and Lynden helps me to be a better person. My patience level has gotten so much stronger because of him. And he helps me to slow down, which is really nice. He has taught me to stop, take it all in, and smell the roses instead of just go go go. So I’m thankful for him. Even on the tough days.”
At Providence Moms Blog, we are passionate about the amazing multi-dimensionality of motherhood and aim to support mothers in their role as “mom” while encouraging them to honor all the other aspects of their identity. We believe that the arts are an essential part of what makes us human and encourage all moms to make the arts a part of their own and their children’s lives. We are proud to partner with Rhode Island School of Design’s Continuing Education Program for this series.
RISD Continuing Education educates students of all ages in art and design with high quality, accessible programs, courses, lectures, and workshops. Registration for winter classes opens on Monday, November 6, 2017 and classes will begin on January 6th, 2018.
RISD CE offers courses for adults in the fine and applied arts and design at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. You’ll find a range of options to explore the world of art and design and RISD’s flexible course schedules meet the needs of today’s adult learners and their busy lifestyles. Options include 3-hour and weekend workshops, 6-12 session courses, and full certificate programs.
RISD’s Young Artist Program (ages 6-17) helps students make their mark as they create, build, make, and dream big through courses in 2D, 3D, digital art and design, as well as STEAM courses.
Saturday courses are offered year-round, and week-long vacation camps are offered in the winter, spring, and summer. Teens can enroll in one of four certificate programs to broaden their skills or prepare for a future in art and design.